Also known as firefish or zebrafish, the lionfish – Pterois – is a genus of twelve small, venomous species native to the Atlantic Ocean and the Indo-Pacific region and living as in the Caribbean and in the Mediterranean Sea as well. They prefer warm, shallow and turbulent waters as well as coral reefs, lagoons and rocky areas.
All species belonging to the genus are relatively small, usually measuring 5-45 cm in length and weighing maximum 1.3 kg. They are characterized by beautiful, bright coloring and patterns and well-known for their long, attractive tentacles and spines many of which are venomous. They have tentacles under the mouth and above the eyes, too and their body is covered in cycloid scales.
Their preferred habitat is in the turbid waters close to harbors. They are nocturnal and solitary, but sometimes they form small harems, with one male and two or three female members. They are very aggressive towards other fish that enter their territory, no matter what size they are. For defense, they rely mainly on their coloring and their extendable fins to scare away predators – they resort to stinging only when they are cornered by the enemy. They are also known to be very adaptable and invasive species – they were accidentally released in Florida back in the 1980’s and they have been living and thriving there since then, even though they were initially not indigenous to the area.
All small and highly ornate species of this genus are predators. They use their venomous spines only as defense weapons, not for catching food – they spend their time hiding camouflaged in the sand and they catch their prey ambushing and then snatching it with the pectoral fins stretched out, being capable of lightning-fast movements. When food is scarce, the species in the genus doesn’t shy away from cannibalism.
Lionfishes are not only very hardy – they are also able to reproduce at very fast rates. One female is able to release more than 30 thousand eggs a week and the fertilized eggs take only two days to hatch. After hatching, the young individuals swim close to the water surface until they reach the length of about 2 cm, after which they start looking for a territory suitable for settling in areas populated by corals or stony regions of the sea bed. The average lifespan of a lionfish (Pterois) is between 5 and 15 years.